Hasan Minhaj, host of newest talk show Patriot Act, has fired back over Netflix’s decision to pull an episode critical of Saudi dictator Mohammad Bin Salman in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi-censored episode took an in-depth look at the Saudi regime’s organized murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the subsequent cover-up, and Minhaj has offered up a withering response in Patriot Act‘s midseason return.
Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj is Netflix’s response to HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, with each comedian host having previously served up late night hilarity as correspondents on The Daily Show. Greenlit in March 2018, Patriot Act‘s first episode centered around the brutal murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey, exploring the now-proven fact that the killing and clumsy cover-up was ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (also referred to as MBS). It seems that the episode caught the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s ire, with the government having successfully lobbied Netflix to completely censor the episode for Saudi viewers.
The removal of the episode took place over Patriot Act‘s midseason break, and Minhaj immediately broke the silence in the show’s latest episode, “Saudi Arabia + Censorship in China.” While the lion’s share of airtime goes toward discussing China’s strict control of what media its citizens can access, Saudi Arabia’s removal of the Khashoggi episode is first used as a perfect and poignant introduction. Referring to Netflix’s fulfillment of the Saudi request to censor the episode, Minhaj teases, “Does MBS think Netflix is a wedding DJ?” Mocking US President Donald Trump’s controversial attempt to ban Muslim immigration, Minhaj says he’s in disbelief the episode prompted the Saudis to “issue their own Muslim ban,” a reference to his own Indian Muslim background. Looking at the Saudi Arabian government’s justification for banning the episode, Minhaj explains that it was achieved by abusing an often-incited article of the nation’s Anti-Cyber Crime Law, which bars any “material impinging on public order, religious values, [or] public morals.”
Minhaj pokes hilariously large holes in the hypocrisy Saudi Arabia demonstrated in targeting his show, pointing out, “Of all the Netflix Originals, the only show that Saudi Arabia think violates ‘Muslim values’ is the one hosted by a Muslim.” Citing a number of Netflix offerings left unscathed by the restrictive hand of MBS, Minhaj examines the irony that his show was singled out despite there being depictions of “literal devil worship and a lot of premarital witch sex” in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, alcohol and drug use in BoJack Horseman, and frequent consumption of pork in numerous cooking shows that all amount to “haram city.” He identifies the most ironic component of Saudi Arabia’s censorship of the episode was the fact that it only signal-boosted his message via the Streisand effect, unintentionally making him a “bipartisan icon.” Ending on a solemn note before turning to China, Minhaj clarifies that he does not view himself as a victim, and uses the moment to draw attention to Saudi Arabian citizens’ total lack of his well-exercised right to openly criticize their government without fear of reprisal.
Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj was already receiving ample attention and deserved acclaim for its mix of intrigue and hard-hitting journalism, as well as for Minhaj’s commanding stage presence and abundant charisma. Thanks to the censorship-happy nature of the Saudi regime, though, it’s been propelled into the spotlight, and this most recent episode is strong evidence that Minhaj and the show’s writing staff are making the most effective use of their surging popularity possible.